IEET > Vision > Bioculture > Staff > HealthLongevity > Hank Pellissier > Innovation
#2: Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews so high?
Hank Pellissier   Dec 30, 2011  

Ashkenazi Jews are smart. Shockingly brilliant, in general. Impressively greater in brain power than the bulk of the human population. How did they get that way?

According to IEET readers, what were the most stimulating stories of 2011? We’re answering that question by posting a countdown of the top 12 articles published that we this year, based on how many total hits each one received - and we’re now down to the last two.

The following piece was first published here on July 19, 2011, and is the 2nd most viewed of the year.

Ashkenazi Jews, aka Ashkenazim, are the descendants of Jews originally from medieval Germany, and later, from throughout Eastern Europe. Approximately 80% of the Jews in the world today are Ashkenazim; the remainder are primarily Sephardic.


Researchers who study the Ashkenazim agree that the children of Abraham are on top of the IQ chart. Steven Pinker – who lectured on “Jews, Genes, and Intelligence” in 2007 - says “their average IQ has been measured at 108-115.” Richard Lynn, author of “The Intelligence of American Jews” in 2004, says it is “only” a half-standard higher: 107.5.  Henry Harpending, Jason Hardy, and Gregory Cochran, University of Utah authors of the 2005 research report, “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence,” state that their subjects, “score .75 to 1.0 standard deviations above the general European average, corresponding to an IQ of 112-115.” Charles Murray, in his 2007 essay “Jewish Genius,” says “their mean is somewhere in the range of 107-115, with 110 being a plausible compromise.”

A Jewish average IQ of 115 is 8 points higher than the generally accepted IQ of their closest rivals—Northeast Asians—and approximately 40% higher than the global average IQ of 79.1 calculated by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen in IQ and Global Inequity.

Plus, contemplate this astounding tidbit: Ashkenazi “visual-spatial” IQ scores are only mediocre; in one study their median in this category was a below-average 98. They surmount this liability by logging astronomic figures in “verbal IQ”, which includes verbal reasoning, comprehension, working memory and mathematical skill; a 1958 survey of yeshiva students discovered a median verbal IQ of 125.6.

I’m not asserting Ashkenazi cognitive specialness because I’m philo-semitic, or a Zionist, or pro-Israeli. I’m pointing it out because it is irrefutably true. People who can’t comprehend the easily understood data verifying high Ashkenazi IQ may not simply be anti-semitic; they must also be crippled in the math/logic zone of their inferior parietal cortex, with subsequent IQ in the ~85 range.

In the 19th century, Mark Twain noted that:

[The Jews] are peculiarly and conspicuously the world’s intellectual aristocracy… [Jewish] contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are.. way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world… and has done it with his hands tied behind him.

Twain’s observation is not dated. Ashkenazi Jews have continued to mentally out-compete other demographics since his statement, often suffering horrendous consequences for their toil. Here is a brief list of Ashkenazi accomplishments in the last 90 years.

Nobel Prizes: Since 1950, 29% of the awards have gone to Ashkenazim, even though they represent only 0.25% of humanity. Ashkenazi achievement in this arena is 117 times greater than their population.

Hungary in the 1930s: Ashkenazim were 6% of the population, but they comprised 55.7% of physicians, 49.2% of attorneys, 30.4% of engineers, and 59.4% of bank officers; plus, they owned 49.4% of the metallurgy industry, 41.6% of machine manufacturing, 72.8% of clothing manufacturing, and, as housing owners, they received 45.1% of Budapest rental income. Jews were similarly successful in nearby nations, like Poland and Germany.

USA (today): Ashkenazi Jews comprise 2.2% of the USA population, but they represent 30% of faculty at elite colleges, 21% of Ivy League students, 25% of the Turing Award winners, 23% of the wealthiest Americans, and 38% of the Oscar-winning film directors.

Israel: In 1922, this swamp and desert land was inhabited by a impoverished population of 752,000. Today there are 7,746,000 residents, with an Ashkenazi majority that have elevated it into a high-tech entrepreneurial nation with the highest per capita income in the region.

Personally, I find the Nobel Prize statistic the most amazing. Consider this: if everybody on the planet was an Ashkenazi Jew, would the result be 117 times more Nobel Prize-winning caliber individuals, with 117 times as many spectacular achievements, per annum? INSTANT SINGULARITY! Without any help from AI…

Let’s proceed. With the facts I’ve laid out, only the most obtuse reader can resist the pronouncement that Ashkenazi Jews are, on average, exceptionally intelligent. I emphasize the word exceptional because I am frequently chided as an “exceptionalist” and I want to make it clear that, yes, I do, in fact, believe specific cultures have evidenced greater ability to produce exceptional individuals and exceptional societies.

That said, the important question is… Why is the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews so high? Is the reason genetic, environmental, cultural, educational? A unique combination of several?

Here are eight theories:

Squeezed Into Brilliance: Jews in Europe were officially excluded from “common” occupations such as agriculture from 800-1700 A.D. This restriction forced the Ashkenazim for 900 years into intellectually more demanding vocations, such as trade and finance. Ashkenazim who weren’t mathematically and verbally adept enough to succeed in these jobs drifted away from Judaism—low IQs were pushed out. Conversely, the most successful merchants and number-crunchers raised larger families, passing on an increasing percentage of algebraic brains.

Escape Plan: The most intelligent and/or wealthy Ashkenazim were better equipped to escape, alive, the Inquisitions, pogroms, persecutions, holocausts, and other genocidal threats because they: 1) could afford to emigrate; 2) could predict the need to do so; and 3) had social and economic opportunities in the nations they fled to. Poorer, less connected, and less astute Ashkenazi ranks thus were inexorably depleted.

Sick Genius: Ashkenazim are prey to a host of debilitating diseases that might, counter-intuitively, enhance their collective intelligence. Tay-Sachs, Gaucher’s disease, Niemann-Pick disease, and Mucolipidosis type IV are all sphingolipid disorders that kill or severely weaken those who have two copies, but if you inherit just one, you get neuron growth promotion and accelerated interconnection of brain cells. A second cluster of Ashkenazi lipid storage disorders might stimulate neuron proliferation in the DNA repair genes.

People of the Book: In 64 A.D., the high priest Joshua ben Gamla insisted that Jewish fathers educate their sons in the Torah. This demanding edict reduced the Jewish population from 4.5 to 1.2 million, by pushing out the lower IQs. The remaining Jews became the first male literate ethnicity in history, with subsequent ability to move into highly-skilled professions. Judaic culture prized scholarship, abstract thought, and analytic argument, with the best Torah students marrying into the wealthiest families and having larger numbers of children.

Trading Tongues: Ashkenazi merchants plied their wares globally, from rubber in Brazil to silk in China. To prosper in the exchange, they memorized multiple languages. The stateless tribe needed diverse fluency anyway, to communicate with neighbors in their adopted lands. A “fusion” tongue was also created: Yiddish (German, Hebrew, Aramaic, plus other Slavics and a touch of Romance). Neurologists today recognize that language learning enhances memory, mental flexibility, problem solving, abstract thinking, and creative hypothesis formulation.

Check Mate: Chess historically has been a highly-favored activity among Ashkenazim; a 1905 magazine described it as the “Jewish National Game.” Almost 50% of Grandmasters have been Ashkenazi. The visual, organizational, and strategic skills required for chess build up the precuneus in the superior parietal lobe, and the caudate nucleus, a part of the basal ganglia in the subcortical region.

Melodic Minds: Music has been revered in Jewish religious traditions for 3,000 years. Klezmer “reached a very high level of sophistication and ornamentation,” according to the Jewish Music Institute, and Ashkenazi composers and instrumentalists contribute hugely to Western classical music (one history site declares, “The Jews ‘Own’ the Violin”). Have centuries of practice paid off? Researchers today believe music training optimizes neuron development and improves brain function in math, analysis, memory, creativity, stress management, concentration, motivation, and science.

Great Expectations: Success breeds success, on the neurological level. Victory provides a rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates motivation for further accomplishments. Ashkenazi children understand they are capable of high achievement, and they’re obliged to develop their skills for contribution to humanity. Is stern discipline necessary to produce these results? Ashkenazim have long discouraged spanking of their children; strong familial ties, incessant encouragement, and hard focused work at excellent institutions, seems to be sufficient.

That’s the range of explanations. My opinion is they’re all possibly correct, but what most intrigues me are the “environmental” factors—factors that are accessible to all humanity.

aj2I wonder, if the rest of the world really wants Ashkenazi-level achievement, why don’t we play chess with our children at night, instead of tossing them a violent video game? Why can’t we listen to their classical compositions on the weekend, instead of urging them to get concussions on the football field? Why can’t we provide them with excellent schools, entice them to learn oodles of foreign grammar, and convince them to believe in and expand their abilities, instead of forcing them to endure years of educational mediocrity and expecting nothing back but the same?

If all humanity adopted the best available characteristics of Ashkenazi culture, would we, as a whole, immensely benefit? Would we learn more quickly, more deeply, and produce greater wonders? Would we become over- instead of under-achievers?

If we promoted high IQ behavior to humans everywhere, globally, would we all become… enhanced? Better humans?

This article has been expanded into a considerably longer essay, with additional references and a total of 20 Explanations, instead of this article’s mere eight. That extended version is available HERE

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


This article was expanded into an e-book that is available here:

You seem present these results as unequivocal. It would only stand to reason that you would make a similar argument about african americans who’s IQs are routinely reported to be 10 to 12 points below average. Somehow I doubt the author would take the same data to make such an argument, even when he was so ready to data to sing the praises of another group.

Fact is, there is no was to separate nature and nurture in humans. The IQ scores for blacks went up when they had access to fair schooling, even though the IQ tests is not supposed to test education. But how could it not? Education is like exercise, if you don’t use your mind it gets weak. That is one way to explain the fact that black IQs drop as they age (95.4 at age 4, 90.5 at age 12, 87.0 at age 18), mostly due to high drop out rates in inner cities.

This article is misleading at best. Professionals know better than to make these kinds of gross assumptions based on this kind of data. In the future, interview one of these people before writing an article like this.

@ Dan A. - thanks for your comments, but I have no idea why you say “the article is misleading at best.”  What part is misleading?  What does “misleading” mean?  Who do you define as “professional”? (probably you, but not me, right?)

Regarding African-Americans and IQ, I did not study that very controversial topic.  I did read much of Richard Nisbett’s book, “Intelligence and How To Get It” but I didn’t read the sections on African-Americans. 

I believe it is important to study mental health, and the acquisition of what we define as intelligence.

A tiny demographic that earns 29% of Nobel Prizes… 117 times greater than their population proportion—examining the possible reasons for this phenomenon seems worthy of investigation, don’t you agree?

“examining the possible reasons for this phenomenon seems worthy of investigation, don’t you agree?”

Is this what you think you are doing, examining the possible reasons? Because that is not the case. In this article you present one finding, that Ashkenazi Jews have high IQs, and then jump to a single conclusion, namely that is because they are smart. You make no attempt to even acknowledge or much less dismiss the numerous other potential explanations.

You credit this group with “genius” but couldn’t this all be explained simply by the fact that Ashkenazi culture values education more than others, thus greater educational excellence is recognized? Instead you credit the group itself, rather than the culture, for the result.

There are numerous studies that examine how the anti-intellectual culture of african americans hurts their academic performance. Yet no one writes about that group calling them feeble-minded because they rightly recognize the impact of the culture.

The Ashkenazi culture is admirable and has produced excellent results. However to say the people are somehow exceptional goes against accepted thought in this field. You can address that if you like but it is irresponsible to not make the distinction between the natural attributes of a people and the benefit of living in a well-established culture.

Be careful to distinguish between nature and nurture, Mr. Pellissier. This article shows no awareness of that bright line.

@ Dan A.—thanks again for continuing the conversation. Regarding your point, to begin with, no expert that I have encountered insists that IQ is 100% “nurture.” The so-called “environmentalists” on the topic, like Richard Nisbett, have strongly advocated that IQ is 50% environmental (“nurture” as you call it) and 50% genetic. My stance is that I am strongly believe in “nurture” and “environment” as an important factor, contributing perhaps 60% to genetics 40%.  If you can find any published scholar on the topic who believes IQ is less genetic than that, let me know.

Regarding the Ashkenazi, I put forth a variety of reasons that they might have IQ.  In accordance with my own beliefs, I listed about 50% environmental and 50% genetic reasons.  You keep emphasizing education, and I do think that is extremely important, and I addressed that in the category “People of the Book.”

I have, as my first comment mentions, written an expanded version of this article in an e-book form.  In that book, I list 150+ environmental factors that influence IQ.  Education is certainly one category of contributing factors, but it is not the only factor.  If you want to research the topic, you can google “IQ” like I did and examine the hundreds of research studies on the topic.

You also mention that the Ashkenazi “benefit” from “living in a well-established culture.” But you must realize, don’t you, that this culture has been obtained through perseverance, against difficult odds?

Let’s be clear about what you are saying. You are saying that this group of people has a genetic predisposition towards intelligence such that the average intelligence of the group is higher than the global mean.

While it is true that the variance between individuals has a significant genetic component, that is very very different than saying that a group as a whole possesses a distinct trait. Furthermore, the genetic differences between groups is much more difficult to define than you might think.

So let’s see where we stand in this article:
Failure to distinguish between nature and nurture
Failure to distinguish between individual and group genetic traits
Incorrect usage of IQ as a surrogate for raw intelligence

These are big problems. I don’t need to google anything to come up to speed on this topic, since the issues we are dealing with are fairly basic and well within my purview. I understand genetics is difficult, I don’t fault you for these misunderstandings. I just think the academic culture you were raised in may not have emphasized these aforementioned important elements.

@ Dan A. - thanks again for continuing with this.

I haven’t made any of the three errors that you claim I have, unless you imagine that I really do believe that 100% of all Jewish people have entirely different genetic traits than those who are not.  I really, of course, do not believe that.

Nor do I, in the article, assert that there are specifically 8 reasons why the Ashkenazi have, as a group, registered a higher IQ. I list them as possible theories; in my expanded book version, I list 20. The reason I added another 12 theories is that the first time this article was published, in summer 2011, readers - especially Jewish readers, many Israeli professors - suggested an additional dozen.

The original article - with 139 comments - can be found at this link: There is considerable discussion there if you want to read it.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein.

Contrast with your:

“.... People who can’t comprehend the easily understood data verifying high Ashkenazi IQ may not simply be anti-semitic; they must also be crippled in the math/logic zone of their inferior parietal cortex, with subsequent IQ in the ~85 range.”

Can’t you ombud your own dorkiness before embarrassing us all with such self-important bloody-minded Mensaese?

You are dancing around the issue, Mr. Pellissier. I never asserted that you said “100% of all Jewish people have entirely different genetic traits than those who are not”. What you did say in this article is that this group is genetically predisposed to be more intelligent, on average, than other groups. That kind of assertion is simply not supported by current research. All we can say is that this group is more successful in academic fields and on the IQ test. Whether that type of exceptionalism is borne of nature or nurture is entirely unknown and much more difficult to gauge than your article would suggest.

That you keep referring to some other articles shows the weakness with this article. It should be able to stand on its own but it has substantial logical weaknesses that mislead the reader.

You did make the aforementioned errors, as they are errors of omission. You simply cannot have this type of discussion without clearly defining some terms, which you failed to do.

In my experience, genetics is the most difficult subject to communicate to a lay audience. I understand that. That is why most writers are extremely conservative when communicating the results of these types of studies, for fear of misleading the audience. I believe that someone reading this article could easily come away with misconceptions. It does not matter that you wrote some other article that would dispel those misconceptions, the readers here are unlikely to continue on and read those.

Dear Hank,
thank you for providing interesting information. Please don’t get intimidated by accusations like those from Dan A. From what you write it becomes very clear that a mixture of nature and nurture is responsible for the high Ashkenazi intelligence. Concerning the “culture” argument: Culture ususally is not something that is imposed upon people by force but is developed by people according their intellectual and spiritual needs and possibilities. That’s why the Ashkenazi culture is so “well-established”. It was “established” by them !
IQ differences between different ethnic groups are a fact. One can ignore this (an approach with many advantages) but then one also should stop talking about intelligence. If one is trying to understand this phenomenon better one must not turn one’s back on reality.

Hank, in my eyes your article once more emphasizes the importance of a social and family policy that gives intelligent people in a society the same possibilities to have children as the “general” population. In many western societies this is not the case as far as I am aware.

@ Johanna Rath—thanks for your comments.  I am not sure what you mean in the last paragraph, however. Where are you writing from, since it is apparently not in the “western societies”?

@ leebert—We are very happy to have you participate in our comment sections, but both the email you sent to me, and the one you sent to Joern Pallensen, are both IMO quite malicious in tone.  Please contribute your thoughts in a more respectful manner, or the comment moderator might not allow them through. That would be unfortunate because I am sure you have ideas you want to contribute, you just need to present them with more courteousness.

@ Dan A.—I really have not been “dancing around the issue” and I believe that you have misinterpreted my attempts to refer you to additional information. I thought you wanted additional info, since you are very keen on this topic, so I listed places where you could find more. There are links embedded in my article that you can read, there’s a previous posting of this article with 134 comments that has great information, and I wrote an expanded e-book on this topic.

Sorry, but I am not interested in arguing with you solely about your low opinion of my article.

What I would prefer to do is share with you and other readers some information that I learned recently from, a genetic testing lab that I enrolled in.

The site lists three genes that pass on an intelligence advantage. They are:

1. If you have at least one T at rs17070145 you will have a 20% better episodic memory than those who do not.

2. If you have two rs363050 genes you will have a non-verbal IQ that is 3 points higher.

3. If you have the gene FADS2 and are breastfed, you will raise your IQ by 6-7 points on average, over those who have the same gene but are not breastfed.

So there you have 3 genetic factors that have been associated with cognitive strength.  I don’t know how many more there are… My e-book, as I mentioned before, lists about 130-150 “environmental” factors.  Personally, I find these the most interesting, because whatever your brain strength is, it can be boosted further by improving your brain’s “environment.”

to conclude, I’d like to correct something you said in an earlier post. You opined that IQ does not reflect “raw intelligence.”  That comment is not exactly true. IQ tests measure two types of intelligence - “Crystallized intelligence” which is based on acquired knowledge, and “fluid intelligence” which measures the capacity to solve problems independent of acquired knowledge.  “Fluid Intelligence” seems to correspond with what you called “Raw Intelligence” so that leaves your comment less than 100% correct.  You have stated a few times that Education is the main ingredient in IQ, and that comment is certainly true in the “crystallized intelligence” aspect of an IQ test that measures knowledge, but Education has far less of an impact on “Fluid Intelligence.”

thanks again for continuing this conversation.

Malicious tone? Not as I understand malice.
Mocking and teasing? Yes. And rough & tumble too.

Differentiating intelligence is one thing. Mutual admiration society borders on insularity. But setting oneself above others deserves a bit of jest. The “~85 IQ” comment leaves you wide open for ridicule.

As for my riposte to Joern’s OP, that was definitely a joke (the followup sentence might’ve given it away). Situational satire, dear.

I am sad to see Johanna’s comment because it demonstrates that she has been mislead in exactly the way I feared people would be by this article.

To summarize my issues with the construction of this article, I will say this: Ashkenazi Jews test higher on an IQ test but the author jumps to the conclusion that this means they are more intelligent. This is this a controversial opinion presented as fact, as there is much debate about the relationship between intelligence and IQ test performance.

The second mistake is that the author implies (and then in the comments asserts) that increased performance on the test is composed of, in his words, 40% genetic factors. This is also completely false as this data explains differences BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS and has not been used to explain differences between groups, if such differences exist. It can easily be shown that environmental differences alone can lead to massive differences in IQ test scores, as I previously cited with the massive decline of african american IQ scores as students age. The DNA of these students doesn’t change with age, their environment does. This same data also bebunks any notion of IQ as a metric for intelligence as the student retains the same inherent intelligence yet the score varies.

These are fundamental flaws in the article and in his attempt to deflect criticism, Mr. Pellissier has referred to other articles, misrepresented what I have said (that “100%” comment in particular), and introduced new material that is irrelevant to the weaknesses we are discussing (the difference between “crystalized intelligence and “fluid intelligence” is far too fine a point for an author who just accepted IQ test results as a metric of intelligence without comment). It is a disappointing rebuttal to say the least.

To those that think I am being too hard on Mr. Pellissier, I say this:

I am no fan of exceptionalism when used to define any group. However it is not often taken seriously. When someone writes an article like this that grossly misconstrues the results of studies in such a way as to attempt to provide scientific support for ideas of exceptionalism, it is dangerous. I creates prejudices. It creates a rift in society that allows people to see other people as different. This is the first step towards the dehumanization that is necessary for acts of cruelty.

This article is flawed fundamentally and as a results provides a faux-scientific basis for discrimination and lays the groundwork for further dividing different cultures in a world of individuals who should be judged on their merits, not prejudged to be intelligent or unintelligent based on the group they come from.

@ leebert - Haha!  okay, quite alright, I admit I was snarky myself with the >85 IQ remark, so welcome aboard. Play clean, play fair, and play hard.  Have a look around the site and drop your offerings elsewhere if you wish.

The article offers several possible selection explanations for the development of Ashkenazic tilt toward higher average IQ scores. But none of those would appear to operate systematically and consistently over the many centuries needed, for such a broad effect upon a relatively large population.

Indeed, some of them would have no genetic effects at all.  The notion that a rabbinic exhortation in 64 c.e. would have “expelled” all lower IQ Judeans is simply absurd.

There is one process that might have had such an effect systematically over time and it relates directly to the strange social circumstance of Ashkenazic Jews in the 2000 year Diaspora. In most human societies, the males who achieved reproductive advantage - extra offspring - were those who could provide consistent wealth and surplus nutrition, along with safe-warm shelter to at least one long-lived wife.  This nearly always meant the landed aristocracy, which in feudal days also meant the top or lordly warrior caste.

But Diasporic Jews were specifically forbidden either warrior or landed gentry roles. They were shunted into professions like banking that were specifically proscribed by the Church. And yes, in those realms the successful Jewish businessmen gained some reproductive advantage - their wives and children might live and breed longer.  But this part is hardly exceptional.

What stands out is a secondary effect. Barred from status-accomplishment in war or aristocracy, inter-male competition in the Diaspora focused on the Rabbis who emerged every year from the various seminaries.  Their arguments and disputations became the prime spectator sport, allowing the top speakers and scholars to achieve superstar status.

Now the kickers. (1) That status was only slightly inheritable. Entry into the seminaries was almost entirely based on merit.  And (2) the top young scholar rabbis became THE tome eligible bachelors in any community or town.

This meant that the clever son of a peasant might, in just 20 years, rise up to marry the most beautiful, healthiest and richest girl in some nearby community.  And the rich parents actively desired this outcome. This happened over and over again, systematically and almost universally, across the entire diaspora.

(In marked contrast to what was going on in Catholic communities, where the brightest boys were sent into a celibate priesthood.)

This pattern is a far more likely explanation.  For once, in one weird culture and because of unique circumstances, the nerds outbred the bullies.  If we could persuade modern women to change their tastes, then this same effect could spread throughout humanity.

@ Dan A. - I would sincerely like to believe that IQ is wholly due to environmental factors, because then our ability to enhance our intelligence would be easier, it would not be limited by any genetics.  Unfortunately, I have found no source that says IQ is wholly environmental, or overwhelmingly due to education, as you have suggested. If you have references to provide, that say IQ is wholly environmental, please pass them on.  My position on the topic resembles Richard Nisbett’s, author of “Intelligence and How to Get It” - he is regarded as an “environmentalist” on the topic because he believes genetics and environment are about 50/50. 

The POV of “environmentalists” in this field has been gaining enormous strength though, in recent years. I believe 30 years ago, anyone who said that IQ was even 20% environmental would have been disregarded.  We are discovering more and more environmental factors that can impact intelligence (my book lists 150).

Will science, in the future, reveal that intelligence is created wholly via environmental measures?  I don’t think so.  Why?  Because as I noted in the previous post when I listed 3 genes that reports on, geneticists are simultaneously discovering genetic links to intelligence.

I must say that I have been cast into a corner in this conversation that I am very uncomfortable in.  I don’t like asserting genetic causes of intelligence.  I am doing so, because of information that I have studied, but I find it rather nauseating. I get called nasty names and accused of unsavory associations whenever I discuss IQ, especially if discussing IQ in relation to specific demographics. I am much happier when I’m talking about the environmental ways that everyone can increase their intelligence.

I was led into intelligence studies solely because I have two children and I want them to be smart, I want them to be successful in their academic and professional pursuits, because I care for them and want them to have futures that bring them pleasure.  In examining who succeeds academically in USA schools, I encountered - of course - the high grades of Jewish-American and Asian-American students.  I wrote essays on both these demographics, as a way of trying to decipher, for the gain of my children, what these two demographics were doing that aided their children scholastically. FYI, I have read that these two groups, comprising perhaps 5% of the USA population, presently fill up up 50% of the Ivy League enrollment.

Anyway, I am just trying to explain to you what my motivation is.  (by the way, it is working, my children have significantly improved their grades since I began studying this topic and applying the environmental factors I’ve learned about)

I find it unfortunate that I cannot praise a particular demographic’s success without getting called racist or exceptionalist. I think developing intelligence is a way to contribute to society, and I believe studying how intelligence is developed, is highly worthwhile.

I encountered a commentator very much like you when I wrote another IEET article, called “Why are Confucian Cultures so Wildly Successful?” I had a long very similar exchange with her. Forgive me, but after going through that, I am bit too weary to repeat the same argument.

@ David Brin - welcome to a spirited discussion!  Yes, the factor you mention, rabbi scholars marrying the richest daughter in the village and having 12 children with her, is an excellent explanation. It is one of the 12 additional explanations that I added, in my e-book, to the 8 posted here.  It is a theory that (I have read) has been mentioned in three tomes - Robert Novick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia, Ernst Vandenberg’s The Jewish Mystique, and Paul Johnson’s A History of the Jews. 

I’m shocked, shocked to find snarking going on in an OL forum…

@Dan A.
You by far underestimate the level of information that I already have regarding the topic of IQ distributions. I am not the poor creature “misled” by an article that you criticize. I have read a number of other articles and studies about IQ differences between individual and IQ distributions in different populations.

” Ashkenazi Jews test higher on an IQ test but the author jumps to the conclusion that this means they are more intelligent.” This is the typical argument of “IQ relativists”. What comes next? “No one knows what intelligence really is; there is no clear definition of intelligence; there are different kinds of intelligence” etc. pp.  Well, if one denies such a thing as intelligence why interfere in discussions about it ?
There are many reasons why two individuals with equal intelligence might score differently on IQ-tests and even the same person can get different results at different times. But if groups of statistically relevant sizes consistently and repeatedly over long periods of time score differently in IQ test this means that there is an underlying difference in average intelligence. 
If one does not like this outcome (what is obviously the case with you, Dan A.) then one should not tackle this issue at all. If one compares A and B it is always possible that they turn out to be different. Stating that A must (!) be equal to B is simply a dogma which cannot be reconciled with an unbiased scientific approach.

@David Brin: What do you mean with “If we could persuade women to change their tastes ...”? Women find intelligent and successful men attractive which is not true (statistically viewed) the other way round. However, to change the tastes of the two sexes with regard to what they find attractive cannot be done easily because these preferences are evolutionary deeply rooted. Two things at the moment set highly educated (intelligent) women at a reproductive disadvantage: male preferences but more importantly, certain economic and social factors that could be altered by different political measures. This is what I meant in my last paragraph, Hank. But this is another discussion and is leading away from the topic of the article.

Mr. Pellissier again you misstate my argument in a way that makes a rebuttal much easier. I most certainly did not say that intelligence is 100% environmental IN GENERAL. What I said is that, in the case of Ashkenazi Jews, it is impossible to know whether their higher IQ scores is 100% genetic, 100% environmental or somewhere in between. In your article, you take it as a given that there must be some genetic component. That may be true, but there is simply no data, it is pure speculation.

I think it is pretty clear that this issue arises from some confusion between the genetic basis for variation in intelligence between individuals and the variation in IQ between groups. I will willingly grant that ~50% of variability in intelligence between individuals is genetic. However that in no way allows someone to look at two groups that differ in IQ and say that difference must have some genetic component.

Here is an example that demonstrates this point very very clearly. I study the genetic basis for heart disease. Like intelligence, an individual’s risk for heart disease is ~50% genetic. Now let’s take a look at two sets of two groups. African Americans have a greater risk of heart disease than whites. This increased risk is predominantly due to genetic factors. Now let’s look at whites living in the Mediterranean and whites living in southern USA. The whites in the south have a higher risk of heart disease but in this case the risk is due almost entirely to the environmental factors of exercise and diet.

This example shows how the genetic factors that control variability between individuals is in no way clearly linked to the variability between groups.

Your assertion that there must be a genetic component to the higher IQs of Ashkenazi Jews is simply provably false. It is unknown. There may be, there may not. However your position is unequivocal and that is simply not supportable.

@ Johanna
I think you have been attending the Mr Pellissier lectures on how to put words into people’s mouths. Just because I believe that IQ tests are subject to various biases does not mean I don’t believe in differences in intelligence. It doesn’t even mean the tests are useless. It just means that when discussing the results, one must be careful to mention the limitations of the test and discuss the implications of the tests limitations. Mr. Pellissier did neither of these things. It is simply basic scientific hygiene to do this.

If you read my response to Mr. P above, you can see that I accept that there are differences in intelligence and that I believe there is a genetic basis to some of this difference. My only objection is how Mr. P assembled this argument. I am indifferent to the outcome, my only objection is to the logic, which makes a number of assumptions (IQ equals intelligence & genetic basis of individual variation can be applied to groups) which are simply, indisputably flat-out wrong.

Mr. P even mentions he gets called nasty names. I am not doing that. I am saying that this article contains serious errors that people could use to further racist ideology.

@ Dan A. - I think we are actually getting closer to understanding each other, but we are still quite a ways apart. First of all, like I said in an earlier post, my listing of 8 theories is not my “assertion” but a collection of theories.

There is also a line where an “environmental” factor essentially becomes genetic, for example, the first two theories “Squeezed Into Brilliance” and “Escape Plan” propose that Ashkenazim that could not survive the difficult demands of their environment, were lost forever, along with their genes. This leaves only the Jews who were best at surviving, which could be very well be the ones with the best cognitive powers.

We’ve had fun with this, but I think it is time to conclude. I am sorry if I misinterpreted any of your comments, I certainly did not do it on purpose. Forgive me for my reluctance to continue, but I have been having roughly the same discussions since July, when this article was originally published.

I do wonder, as I say goodbye, what your emotional investment is in your stance.  Or is it really an entirely intellectual position? I have explained to you that my purpose for examining IQ variation involved my children’s education. Let me know, if you wish, what your precise reasons are.

I am a genetics researcher as previously stated. This is the subject I have devoted my life to studying. Furthermore, I have received training as a journalist and believe in the ethics of honest journalism.

You note that I am not at all pleased with this writing and you are correct. By asking what has already been answered, you seem to be hinting at ulterior motives. I promise you this, I would have come down just as hard on an article that used IQ gaps as proof of the genetic inferiority of blacks. For that matter, I equally take apart the terrible articles that support the Paleo diet, another are where evolutionary speculation raises its ugly head. You seem guilty of this too, so eager to offer entirely speculative means of selection as a way of justifying an outcome that you clearly support regardless of the lack of any proof.

Why am I so invested? Because you are wrong about a subject I find dear, and you spread this misinformation through the medium of sensationalist journalism, a medium that is a mockery of well-sourced and properly qualified reporting.

I am sorry I could not be more supportive. In other venues I am. But I seriously could not find one redeeming thought in this article. Do not mistake this as a personal attack. I am simply reviewing this like I would a science paper sent by an editor to review. I would not have published this.

@ Dan A. - I never intentionally put words into your mouth, and if that indeed occurred, it was only because I had, and still have, a very difficult time comprehending you, not because of the content enclosed, but because of the… way you use words? I am not sure.  I have also felt repeatedly that you were putting words into my mouth.  And still, after all these words, I must say that there are many points you have tried to make that are quite unclear to me. It is frustrating of course but I am rather used to it; not every communication with every person via email… works.

This article has been read by other geneticists besides yourself (who agreed with the contents) and it is of course based on the research and writing of numerous authors and scholars.  It seems like your occupation has to do with… African-Americans, health issues, Southern states? 

I have written about a very different topic that I regard as outside your area of expertise.  I have referred you to other books and articles for you to read on the topic, but you have not evidenced any interest in learning anything additional.  This suggests to me that you believe you already know everything about the question I pose? That is unfortunate, because you have not, and no one else has either, completely answered the query in my headline.

Mr. Pellissier take a moment to consider why the bulk of your responses are about me rather than the subject matter at hand. You have maintained a professional air in this conversation but it is very clear now that you are attempting to undermine my argument by questioning my credibility. This is called an ad hominem attack and is a tactic of last resort.

Regardless, since you have questioned my credibility, I feel obligated to reply. I am a researcher at Stanford University studying the genetic risk factors. I am studying a SNP called rs12190287. TODAY I attended Victor Velculescu’s talk “Personalized Genomic Analysis of Human Cancer” at Stanford. He was introduced by Dr. Mark Snyder. I worked in Snyder’s lab. His lab is more well-funded than entire genetics departments. I study how genetic variants produce observable phenotypes. This is very relevant to this discussion.

You say I don’t write well. When I handed in my PhD thesis at Harvard the three faculty members that reviewed it had no corrections. When I concentrate, my writing is objectively quite good. I write with far less care on a website but it is clear enough. If you are having trouble following, it is because you do not understand concepts basic to the field. I am writing at a level commensurate with material at hand.

Now let’s take a look at you. From your bio I can see no indication of any science training whatsoever. By your own admission, you are just some guy who took an interest in the topic while trying to help his kids “be smart”, which makes no sense as their genetics are set upon conception.

After all this, you have the audacity to accuse me of being “outside your area of expertise”. Frankly that is a desperate and inappropriate claim, made by someone who has no credibility in the field himself.

The article has many mistakes. Your comments are a disaster. Nothing you write about is even remotely correct. For example, you say “two rs363050 genes” when rs363050 is a SNP not a gene. If you can’t differentiate between a SNP and a gene, you should not be publishing about genetics. That is an EXTREMELY basic definition.

You say I act as I know everything and I assure you I do not. However your mistakes in this article are on basic, fundamental principles of genetics and I don’t need to read anything you link to learn the basics, I learned them years ago.

You, on the other hand, when given the principles supplemented with concrete examples have ignored them and continued to make insinuations about my credibility. That is not behavior to be proud of.

I can see that you want to get the last word on this, and I’ll let you have it. Good night, Mr. Pellissier. You can keep writing on this topic, but it is a waste of your time and more importantly the reader’s.

I have provided links below for the potentially cognitive-enhancing alleles and genes that mentions:

(this site reports a 24% increase in episodic memory, states it as 20%)

(this site reports a non-verbal IQ elevation of 2.8 points; states it as 3)

(this site reports a “near 7” point gain in IQ if you have it and are breastfed; reports it as 7)

Plus, here’s a condensed list of the papers and books I used in writing the expanded version of the article posted here. In actuality, I used about 10X as many sources, but this is enough to get started. It is indeed a very contentious topic!

Steven Pinker, “Jews, Genes, and Intelligence”
USA (today) - Jews and the New American Scene, by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab -
The Indestructible Jews, by Max Dimont -
Nobel Prize winners, 2011 -
Harpending, Hardy, Cochran, “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence” -
Hungary in the 1930’s -
Jewish Nobel Prizes -
Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice -
Evolution of Man and Society, by Cyril Darlington -
Talmud study -
Peter Abelard quote -
Jews establish male literacy -
Jewish population drop -
A History of the Jews, by Paul Johnson -
Yiddish -
“Bilingualism Will Supercharge Your Baby’s Brain,” -
Jews not allowed land ownership in Europe -
Frankish King Dagobert expels Jews -
First Crusade -
Jews expelled from England, France, Germany -
Ashkenazi nineteen genetic diseases -
Dentrite growth in Tay Sachs, etc. -
Gaucher’s disease study -
Torsion Dystomia -
Positive thinking -
Ashkenazi Grandmasters -
Chess builds up the brain -
Klezmer music -
The Jews “Own” the Violin -
Dopamine and motivation -
63. American Jewish economic success and educational attainment -
IQ and Global Inequity -
Murray, “Jewish Genius” -
Richard Lynn, “The Intelligence of American Jews,” -

Breed for smart, get smart. Any sheepdog owner will tell you that.

And it only takes eight generations to breed a wolf into a dog…

Your list didn’t mention diet. Do the Ashkenazim typically observe a kosher diet and related hygiene practices?

Frank, you’re exhausting.  Dan A., good work!

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Orangutans Using iPads at Zoos

Previous entry: #3: Methuselah in the Machine